Saturday, August 14, 2010

Writing content well first, then go for SEO worthiness

Optimizing Your Website for Search Engines. That is the Title of Part 2 of Michael Miller's The Idiot's Guide to Search Engine Optimization, and is also what I have been talking about being inline with the normal usage of English when used to describe the SEO business. It is another variation of Website Optimization for Search Engines (WOSE).

Anyway, Miller has described Part 2 as the meat of the SEO business. It is action-oriented, applying SEO principles to a live website, in a step-wise fashion. The first rung, the most important foundation of all, is Content. Aptly entitled Optimizing Your Site's Content, it is a drill section on CONTENT, CONTENT, and nothing but CONTENT.

Engaging, flowing, flawless, and pertinent. The content must be able to captivate and sustain the attention of the users/visitors, the style must be flowing like water with continuity in a natural progression, the grammar must be the envy of the language enthusiasts (meeting the expectations of the purists will be too tall an order) with judiciously placed punctuation marks to indicate change in thought, in emphasis, and in re-direction, and the coverage must be clearly delineated, shorn of extraneous materials and excessive self-peddling. So much for content quality, which is the organic part.

One can be trained to write well, but the skills need to be acquired prior to launching the website. A website that is on the public gallery is hardly a place to learn the ropes of writing engagingly as parading language weakness in a published website degrades the perception of content worthiness. Fortunately, for those who are predisposed to be better doers than writers, help is at hand: copy writers. They are a niche unto themselves for a reason.

The rest of the optimization would appear to be more mechanistic: prudent sprinkling of keywords, sprucing up the HTML tags, and creating links that serve to elevate (inspire trust) rather than downgrade (engender distrust). Remember not all links are created equal, and they do vary widely in link reputation or worthiness. Official domains such as the edu's and the gov's command much higher respect than the lowly com's, some of them anyway.

As for the requisite length, most agree that being longer is better than shorter premised on the well-regarded observation that amplification trumps precis. And a thousand words or thereabout seems to be the consensus. For comparison, the length of this blog up to this point is about 380 words. Thus, I still have some grounds to cover until that magical threshold is reached.

Whether it is a webpage, or an article in hardcopy form like in a printed magazine or newspaper, the techniques and rules for good writing differ little. There are essentially two parts: the what (the content) and the how (the writing style).

As the progenitor of the webpage prompted by an idea, an urge to fill a need, or an opportunity to start, run and own an e-business by providing services, you are the best judge of the what part, and hence, the best person to articulate these core propositions. To this end:

1) Focus on the core theme, be it to verbalize a message, to convey a piece of information, to deliver a sales pitch for a specific product or to solicit feedback. Say it out-front, say it in the middle, and say it again at the end.

2) Focus on the needs of the readers: speak to them, with respect, and humility, and be truthful about the benefits that will accrue so that they could walk away with their needs met, or a way to meet their needs identified. Always remember to cultivate a lasting impression to encourage repeat business. If you're not in for the long haul, you have no business to be in it in the first place. In and out is certain to spell doom from day one. As in an oral presentation, audience analysis is vital so as to be able to write in a tone that the targeted audience is most comfortable with. Not condescending, nor overly didactic.

3) Then support the core theme with well-thought out procedure/applications/examples/cases in a clear sequence that culminates in the realization of the core theme through a series of success stories. After all, it is no difference than telling a story at the end of which the audience, or a portion thereof, must be sold on the story. In that regard, nothing sells better than one that is rooted in authenticity.

Once we know what to write and for whom, the success of the how part hinges on our ability to achieve readability and to exude elegance of the written word. While a written work may lack the reinforcement via body language, one can still aim to blend in the non-verbal cues through the use of evocative prose and sentiment-laden words to evince passion, sincerity, eagerness, and empathy. Here's where creativity can know no bounds, transcending platitudes and rising above sloganeering.

Regardless, good writing traits revolve around simplicity, economy, writing in the active voice/first person, coherence, and avoidance of slang/jargons and repetitions of the same words. Reading widely, having a wide command of vocabulary, and knowing the nuances will go a long way in presenting the what in a highly readable and elegant manner. If this seems daunting or the learning process is too time consuming, engage professional help.

There is one more step to insure SEO worthiness though. That's where SEO skills are called for, and that is also where Michael Miller lays bare the meat of his book for everyone's picking, starting from hereon right up to the last chapter, which is 24, of his book.

One chapter at a time now. And the threshold met.

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